New Study Brings Comfort to New Moms Battling Postpartum Depression

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ByKylie McConville
Updated
Mar 2017
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A new study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry reveals that 1 in every 7 women suffer from postpartum depression.

The study followed 10,000 women in Pittsburgh for a year and half after giving birth and found that 22% suffered from depression. The women were asked to take part in short telephone interviews four to six weeks after they had delivered their babies.

University of Pittsburgh psychiatrist Dorothy Sit, one of the study’s investigators, said, “We asked them whether they had been able to laugh and see the funny side of things,” and they also probed new moms about their “ability to look forward with enjoyment to things, whether or not they’re blaming themselves necessarily when things go wrong, feeling anxious or worried for no good reason, being scared or panicky for no good reason.”

From the questions, researchers found that 14 percent of the new moms were at an increased risk of postpartum depression, which follows the conclusion that previous studies have drawn. The only difference was that according to this new study, the home visits following the telephone interviews proved that in many cases, the symptoms of postpartum depression where very serious.

“We discovered 20 percent had suicidal thoughts — these are thoughts of death, thoughts of wanting to die, not wanting to wake up, just escape,” Sit says. “In fact, some patients with very severe symptoms had made the decision to take their lives.” The scary results have Sit believing that all pregnant women and new moms should be screened to help diagnose the problem sooner, before it gets worse.

One thing the study did not was determine why certain women are more vulnerable to postpartum depression than others. It is likely that genetics, hormonal fluctuations and sleep deprivation all play a role.

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NPR spoke with Rebecca Starck, the director of the obstetrics unit at the Cleveland Clinic. Patients at the Cleveland Clinic are routinely screened for depression during their third trimester of pregnancy and once more, after delivering their baby. Of screening the patients as they ready to leave the hospital, she said, “Once they have the baby, before they leave the hospital, I often say, 'It’s normal to have ups and downs and crying out of the blue. But if you feel like you can’t sleep… or if you feel like you’re in a deep dark hole and you don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, you may, in fact, be somebody who needs to go on medication or have some counseling.”

Starck is in agreement with Sit and the new research, admitting that screening for postpartum depression symptoms is critical because once women are diagnosed the treatments (individual and group therapy and medication) are incredibly effective. One thing Starck always tells her patients and family members is that “this is out of your control.”

For expectant moms and new moms, it’s important to remember that help is available; you’re not alone and most importantly, you should never be embarrassed (or feel guilty) for asking for help. We’re here for each other!

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